Poker Tips by George: Skills That Yield Poker Success

By George Epstein
February 07, 2023

It was February 24, 2000, well over 20 years ago, when Poker Digest’s Mason Malmuth identified five skills as essential to achieving success in poker. I will list them in the same order as he did:

1. Hand Selection
2. Check-Raising
3. Reading Hands
4. Semi-Bluffing
5. The Ability to Vary Your Game

I would agree that all of these poker skills are essential to survival at the poker table, especially Hand Selection. But these five skills will not necessarily make you a winner. To achieve that goal, to be truly successful, you must win enough chips to overcome the cost-to-play (consisting of the casino rake, the drop for a bad-beat jackpot, and tips to the dealers). In a low-limit game, cost-to-play adds up to about $25 per hour. And that is your challenge.


Beating Cost-to-Play

To win those additional chips – and hopefully much more – there are two additional skills I would add to Malmuth’s list:

(1) Selective Aggressive Playing – raise the pot more often, putting fear into your opponents’ minds; and
(2) Make it a rule that your hand must improve on the flop. Muck your cards otherwise – unless you get a “free” card when everyone checks. (A dollar saved is as valuable as one earned.)

Moreover, if you’re playing online, it would be ideal to try find the site that charges the lowest rake. This list of top online casinos might prove helpful in that regard.

Other Important Skills for Poker Success

There are several other skills that I would add to Malmuth’s list for poker success. To be a consistent winner:

Table selection. If there is more than one table offering your preferred game and stakes, look them over before being seated. You want to avoid games with more than one or two tight players (they fold too often to allow you to win many chips from them) and maniacs (they raise often). Don’t hesitate to change tables when the game changes.

Take a break or quit for the day when you get very tired and have trouble focusing on the game. Playing winning poker requires your close attention to every aspect of the game and the players.

Slow-playing and trapping to help build the pot after you catch a monster. That goes along with Malmuth’s check-raising skill.

Look for your opponents’ tells and betting patterns – not only to avoid mistakes but also to take advantage of them.

With a drawing hand, use the 4-2 Rule to decide whether to call an opponent’s bet. Start by counting your outs (cards remaining in the deck that would complete your draw) and use them to estimate your card odds and then compare them with the pot odds. When the pot odds are higher, you have a Positive Expectation and should continue.

READ ALSO: Poker Tips by George: Using Implied Pot Odds 

Summary of Important Skills

Here, I have gathered the various skills and combined those that are similar. If you follow these 8 rules you will be on your way to poker success.

1. Hand Selection.
2. Fold if the flop does not improve your hand – unless everyone checks and you get a “free” card.
3. Table Selection.
4. Become expert at deception – bluffing, semi-bluffing, check-raising, slow-playing, trapping and baiting.
5. Take a break or quit for the day when you get too tired to focus on the game.
6. Use the 4-2 Rule when you have a drawing hand.
7. Vary your game; use selective aggression to raise more often.
8. Know your opponents – how they think and act, and “read” their tells.

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George Epstein

After a long and productive career as a leader in the aerospace industry, upon his retirement in the 1990s, George Epstein chose poker as his “second career.” George has been widely recognized for his many significant accomplishments and contributions to our society. These include pioneering and innovations in various materials, testing and manufacturing technologies for […]

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